This is a new story I just started working on. Please note it is NOT a BIONICLE story, because anything I do for BIONICLE would have to be official, approved, etc. This is something of my own. I have not decided whether to try to do it as a book or maybe a podcast or something else, but I figured I would share the beginning with you.
Mina walked slowly through the scrubland, her eyes on the ground, muttering to herself all the while. If her mother had been here, she would have gotten a scolding for talking under her breath. Even when mother couldn’t hear the words, she recognized the tone.
Of course, no one was around but Mina. Her father was working at the mill, her mother was getting supplies with her little brother in tow, and her older brother… well, he had disappeared as usual when there was work to be done. So Mina was the lucky one who got to walk three mehars and check the water traps.
She hated this trip. The ground was covered with roots and thorny bushes that snagged her clothes and scratched her legs. There was nothing to see but empty land and the occasional small animal. There weren’t even any dangerous predators to watch out for. They had migrated long ago to where the hunting was better.
The whole place was a big zero. So was the chore. The water traps rarely caught enough moisture from the air to make it worth the walk. But maintaining them made her father feel like he was being self-sufficient, even if he still had to buy water in the city like everyone else. Whenever Mina brought this up, he would say something about how someday it might not be so easy to travel there and they needed to be prepared.
She didn’t know if he was right, but she hoped not. She had only been to the city a handful of times, but loved it and dreamed of moving there someday. The tall buildings, the scent of exotic food cooked by street vendors, the sounds of music and vehicles and newsbots droning on about things she didn’t understand – it made her feel alive. Sometimes, when they got close, she would lean out the window of their battered old flyer just to breathe in the city air.
She already had it all planned out. She would take every opportunity to learn, whether it was at school or in her free moments at home. Her father had a lot of books and he let her read most of them. She was already smarter than her brother Dar, and he was three years older.
Once she was 16 and educated, she would go to the city and find a job. If it paid enough, she would be able to get a place to live. It was hard to imagine having a place of her own that she could fill with her own stuff. She thought about how it would be to eat when and what she wanted, to stay up late, to wander the streets for hours and see everything.
Soon, she would have lots of city friends and they would get together and do things. Maybe her parents would even come to visit and be impressed with how successful she was. Mina couldn’t wait to see Dar’s stupid face when he saw that his little sister had achieved what he could not.
Her foot got caught in a root and she almost fell over. That jarred her out of her dream and back to today. The nearest traps were only a short distance away. With luck, she could give them all a quick glance and make it home in time for lunch. There was certainly no reason to spend more time out here than was absolutely necessary.
As she was extricating herself from the tangle of roots, a reflection caught her eye. She looked up and saw a white rock jutting up out of the ground, off to the left. It had a sharp point and what looked like blue veins running through it. She was sure it had not been there the last time she made this trip a week ago.
Mina took a few steps closer. There weren’t any other rocks like it anywhere around. She had no idea what the blue mineral might be, but wondered if it could be valuable. It wasn’t that big, so she was sure she could manage carrying it home to show her father. If it was something rare, maybe it would even mean a trip to the city to sell it.
Or it might just be a pretty rock that will go on my shelf, Mina thought. Still worth getting. Father always says it’s important to keep your eyes open for hidden treasures, because you never know…
In the instant before her hand touched it, Mina realized that it wasn’t a rock.
It was a bone.
And then her hand was on it and her skin was cold and hot at the same time, her mind was full of colors and shapes, and she could taste the sunlight and feel the world spinning beneath her feet. She was flying into the sky and falling into an impossibly deep pit at the same time. Her soul left her body behind, or maybe it was the other way round.
And as the little girl disintegrated into fiery shards, all the was once her raining onto the ground, she heard her father’s words one last time.
“You never know, Mina. You never know what might change your life.”
One week later…
Kogar stepped out of the flyer and onto the sands of the Stone Barrens. Behind him, the driver said, “You sure this is the place?”
Off in the distance, a lone structure stood. It was only an hour past sunrise, but already the sounds of metal on metal could be heard drifting on the wind.
“Do you want me to wait? You won’t find a ride back out here.”
“You can leave. I’m meeting someone.”
The flyer engine revved, but the vehicle stayed in place. After a moment, the driver said, “I remember you. I was just a kid, but I saw you when you fought off those Aski raiders. I always wondered what happened to you.”
You’re not the only one, thought Kogar. When he didn’t respond, the flyer roared off to the east. The driver might tell the story of picking up a famous passenger today, but odds were no one would believe him. Nobody had time for fairy tales these days.
Every step kicked up sickly yellow dust. He cranked up his internal cooling to compensate for the heat, but it wasn’t quite up to the job. He hadn’t thought he would ever have reason to come to this desolate waste again. The memories here weren’t good ones, but maybe that was why Namil had chosen this for a home. Of the group, he’d always been the most inclined to live in the past.
As Kogar got closer, he saw that the building was just a square block of dark green metal. Waves of heat from the forge inside rippled out the open doors. The ground all around was littered with broken flyers, spare parts, and rusted out junk. There was no sign.
Maybe it’s not a business, he thought. Maybe this is just a way to pass the time.
The harsh clanging carried on for a few moments, then stopped. It was followed by the sound of Namil’s heavy tread. Then the smith peered out of the door, saw Kogar, and said “Yeah. No.” He promptly vanished back inside.
“Then go ask everybody for help.”
“It’s our problem.”
Something slammed against the wall of the building. Then Namil stormed out onto the sand. His armor was dusty and dented and there was a void where his left arm used to be. He was a good head taller than Kogar, even when he stooped over, which it seemed he still did from force of habit.
“No, we don’t have problems anymore. You have problems. And the main one is forgetting that it’s been 20 years since anyone wanted you coming to the rescue. You were the one who said it was over, ‘team leader,’ so it’s over. Now get lost.”
Kogar felt anger rise up in him. He hadn’t wanted to make this trip. He didn’t want to see any of them again, not even Shona. His last memory of her was the reproach in her eyes at the funeral and he had no desire to see that again. It hadn’t been a big step to go from burying a friend to saying the hell with all o fit.
He knew what Namil was thinking. None of them owed anyone anything. It wasn’t their responsibility anymore, and hadn’t been for a long time. And his old partner was right.
But Kogar also knew what it felt like to wake up in the middle of the night second-guessing his actions, going over everything that happened and trying to figure out what went wrong. He knew what it was to go over the same memories again and again, like a holo-vid that couldn’t be switched off. He couldn’t go through that a second time.
All of that flashed through his mind as he raised his right arm. A moment later, Namil’s home wrenched itself free from the ground and rose 30 feet in the air. Pain exploded in Kogar’s head. He hadn’t used this power in far too long and his whole body protested the effort.
Namil looked up at his entire life hovering in the sky. If Kogar cut the power off, the structure would slam into the ground, the walls would accordion, the roof would collapse on his tools and his forge and the few other objects he still owned. In that case, he might as well take a few steps forward and stand underneath it when it fell.
The building began to descend, but slowly and awkwardly. When it had only a few feet to go before reaching the sand, it suddenly dropped. Namil could hear his tools crashing to the ground and his anvil toppling over.
Without a word, Kogar turned and started the long walk back to the city.
Aira stumbled on a root, almost dropping the basket she was carrying. It was really too big and unwieldy for her to manage, but she had insisted she was big enough to handle on her own. Lagan had shaken her head and gone along, because they only had so much time before their parents would wonder where they were.
“Be careful!” the older girl admonished. “That stuff is important.”
“I know, Lagan,” Aira said. “I’m not some silly sing-dig. Worry about you.”
Lagan bit back what she had to say. She would rather have made this trip alone, but Aira’s family had extra fruit this month and hers did not. They needed to fill the basket with something that would be acceptable as a gift. Otherwise, what was the point?
After a while, Aira said, “Do you think she’ll see us?”
“Sure, she will. Why wouldn’t she?”
“We’re just kids.”
“My brother says they used to listen to everybody.”
“Your brother wasn’t even alive back then.”
“Neither were you, so how do you know she won’t talk to kids? Walk faster, too. If you can’t carry the basket, give it to me.”
“I can to carry it! And my Dad says all they ever cared about was fighting and breaking things. Sometimes, things were worse after they were done than they had been before.”
“Then why did you want to come?” snapped Lagan. “I didn’t need you and your stupid fruit. I could have found some nunza leaves to bring or something. Why did you have to come with me?”
Aira didn’t answer at first. Then Lagan heard her sniffling. “Mina was my friend,” the little girl replied finally, tears in her voice. “I miss her.”
Lagan said nothing, just kept walking. She felt bad about making Aira cry. That wouldn’t help anything. And a part of her was starting to feel fearful about this whole thing. She could get in real trouble for making this trip, and that was if she even survived it. There were all sorts of stories about what was out this way…
“Look!” Aira said, pointing up ahead. “Is that it?”
Lagan stopped and stared. In the distance was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen, an oasis of color in the gray landscape. Trees and vines and flowers of all sorts grew and intertwined, forming a garden like the kind she had read about in storybooks. The hot breeze carried the scent of the blossoms and it made her dizzy.
Together, the two children clambered over rocks until they reached the edge of the garden. Lagan glanced at Aira, who nodded once.
They spent twenty minutes making their way through vegetation that seemed to move aside so they could pass. The hovering insects didn’t sting them and the sharp thorns on the many vines did not scratch. Were they being welcomed, Lagan wondered, or simply lured inside?
The two girls came to a clearing, the first empty space they had seen. But there was no one there and no sound of anyone moving nearby. In fact, there was no sound at all, not even birdsong or fire gnats buzzing. Surrounded by so much life, this eerie silence felt like death.
Lagan would have expected to feel frustration that they came all this way for nothing. Instead, she felt oddly relieved. As much as she hated to admit it, Aira’s father had a point. If all the legends were true, this probably would not end well.
She was about to tell Aira they were going back home when something caught her eye. There was a stirring in the soil in the center of the clearing. It looked like a whirlpool in the ground, followed by blue-green buds emerging slowly from beneath the dirt.
Then, shocked, Lagan took a step back, pulling on Aira to do the same. The younger girl lost control of the basket and the fruit spilled on the ground. What they were seeing weren’t buds, the girls realized … they looked like fingertips.
Awestruck, they watched as a figure grew out of the ground. At first, Lagan thought it must be some kind of weird plant, but it had arms and legs and a head. Something gleamed in the shadowy spaces that passed for eyes. Even more horrifying, the thing seemed to be smiling at them.
“We’re sorry! We’re sorry!” Lagan sputtered, as Aira began to cry. “We didn’t mean anything. Please let us go!”
The strange creature was fully grown now and it moved toward them, dirt showering from its body as it went. When it drew close, it reached out a hand to stroke Lagan’s cheek. What touched the young girl wasn’t metal or flesh, but something that felt like tree bark and flower petals combined. Lagan’s heart beat wildly.
“Why did you come here?” the being said, in a voice that sounded like the rustling of leaves. “You are far from home.”
Aira had her eyes shut tight. She was crying too hard to answer, Lagan somehow found her voice, though she didn’t know how. “We were looking for Shona. They said she was here. We need her help.”
The being inclined its head with a sickening crackle. “Is it very important? It must be for you to make such a journey and risk so much. You see, this can be a very welcoming place, or …”
Behind them, the vines and branches suddenly came together to form an impenetrable wall with thorns six inches long. Grasses sprang from the soil and wound themselves around the two girls’ feet. Aira screamed.
This drew the being’s attention to the little girl. A flower grew right in front of Aira, and bent its blossoms toward her face. Sobbing, Aira had no choice but to inhale its scent. In an instant, her tears had stopped and she stood placidly beside Lagan.
“What did you do to her?” the older child demanded.
“She was disturbing the peace of this place. Now she is not. So we can talk.”
“About what?” Lagan was surprised to find herself feeling more angry than afraid. If she was going to die here, she decided, she would find some way to fight.
“About why you sought out someone best left forgotten.”
“We have a friend. Her name is Mina. Last week, she went out to do chores and she never came back. Her family can’t find any trace of her. They’re scared. We’re all scared. I thought if we brought Shona gift” – she gestured to the fruit on the ground – “she would help. I didn’t know –”
“You didn’t know who you were seeking. You only knew the name and the stories. And none of the old ones would tell you more, would they? Shona is gone and they are happier for it.” The being leaned in close, its voice dropping to a whisper. “Shona is buried in the ground and that’s where they wish her to stay.”
“Oh, gods,” Lagan breathed. “You … you are…”
“I am,” said Shona, “the blooming and the dying, the harvest and the blight. What I am not,” she added, kicking at the fruit, “is some divine being to be bribed with a tribute. Gather that up and bring it back to your families when you go.”
The grasses withdrew from the girls’ feet, Behind them, the wall of green parted to afford them an exit.
“Does that mean… you won’t help?” Lagan asked.
“Once, there would have been no question,” said Shona. “But now… to your people, I am a weed to be stamped out. They made their choice. They will live and die with it.”
“Then you’re not alive!” Lagan said in fury. “You’re nothing that grows. You are just rotting here and you’ll keep on rotting until you’re dead. If I had a torch, I would burn you and your garden down!”
“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea,” said a voice behind Lagan. She turned to see a familiar armored figure stepping into the clearing. “New growth and all.”
“You,” said Shona, as vines sprang from the garden and pulled the two girls aside. “We agreed. No more. Never again.”
“We agreed,” Kogar nodded. “I stayed away, like you asked. But it’s starting again, and I think you know it. It’s time to stop hiding.”
Kogar reached out his hand.
“Because we’re about to be found.”
Pila peered over the edge of the roof, scanning for movement. Making the climb up here hadn’t been easy, not with that heavy sack on his back. Still, he couldn’t complain. That burden was the mark of a successful evening of thievery.
The roof was empty. Nothing but shadows cast by the moonlight. Pila clambered up onto the flat stone surface and sat down. He emptied the sack in front of him, enjoying how its contents gleamed in the light. He tried to do the math in his head, but quickly lost count. Still, this haul would mean some good food and drink in the days to come.
That was about when he stopped breathing.
His hands flew up to this throat, but there was nothing to grab. Something was choking him but he couldn’t touch it even as he was jerked backward. Pila sprawled on the roof, his face starting to turn purple as he strained desperately for breath.
Through the blood rushing in his ears, Pila heard metal boots ringing softly on the stone. Through fading vision, he saw a figure in black armor looking down at him. On his left arm, the figure carried a shield; in his right hand, he carried a whip made of smoke.
Pila knew who it was. He’d heard stories. The rumors alone had been enough to convince some of his friends to clear out of the city and look for easier pickings. But not Pila. He was too smart. He didn’t believe in ghosts. Now, here he was, about to become one.
Tasin reached down and lifted Pila off the roof. Then he dangled the struggling thief over the edge.
Pila felt the pressure on his windpipe ease just a little. Maybe he would get lucky and just be dashed to the ground instead of choked to death. “What do you want? Pull me back!”
Tasin gestured with his shield at the pile of loot.
“Go ahead! Take all of it! Just don’t kill me!”
The armored figure reached out and took the sack of coin off Pila’s belt. Then he held it in front of the thief’s eyes and pointed again at the stolen goods.
“Who’s … who’s paying? Is that what you want to know? Who’s paying me for the stuff?”
“Carnab in the alley off Nedle Square. He only gives me maybe a quarter of what it’s worth, but he pays fast and he keeps his mouth shut. I don’t know if he resells it or melts it down or what. It won’t do any good to go after him, someone else will just take his place. Same with me,” Pila finished weakly.
Tasin took a step back. He was still holding Pila up in the air, but the thief was over solid roof now, not empty space. Better yet, that smoke whip had slid away from around his throat.
“I was always on your side,” Pila said. He realized he was started to babble, but couldn’t stop himself. “I knew kicking you out of town wouldn’t stop you. I knew you’d be back. And, hey, if you need to sell that stuff to get by, I understand. It’s a tough world for all of us. I won’t tell anybody. It’ll be our secret.”
Tasin regarded Pila with dead eyes for a moment or two. Then he casually tossed the thief off the roof.
Pila squeezed his eyes shut and screamed.
He was still screaming when something halted his fall and lifted him gently back onto the roof. Cautiously, he opened his eyes and saw Kogar and Shona and Tasin, the latter now bound up with vines that had burst out of the roof. Kogar flicked a wrist and dropped Pila on top of his loot.
“Is this what you’ve come to?” Kogar said, turning to Tasin. “Killing sneak thieves? Trying to make everyone think they were right about us all the time?”
“Tasin always did understand the need to weed the garden,” Shona breathed.
“That’s not who we are,” Kogar said quietly. “At least, it’s not who we used to be.”
“Tasin hasn’t changed. There simply stopped being anyone around to tell him no. The rest of us walked away. At least he’s still … paying attention. Can you punish him for that?”
The vines abruptly dropped away from Tasin, who immediately started edging toward the shadows.
“I cannot,” Shona finished.
Kogar surged forward. “Stop, don’t let him get into the --”
Too late. Tasin had vanished into a shadow. He could emerge out of any other one, anywhere in the city. They might never find him again. Kogar cursed.
“Hey, watch your language. There are ladies present. Sort of.”
Namil stood in front of them, one fist clamped onto Tasin’s arm. He had reached in and hauled his former teammate out of the shadows. “Bet you forgot I could do that, didn’t you?” he said to his captive.
“I thought you weren’t interested in helping,” said Kogar.
“Me too,” Namil answered. “But I heard. You know, about the little girl. So I went out there and … it’s bad, and getting worse. So I had to admit you’re right, Kogar, it’s our mess. We have to clean it up, even if no one wants us to. Only question is, where do we start?”
Kogar looked around at people who had been his teammates, his friends, for so long. They were all strangers now. And deep down he couldn’t help but wonder if a team of strangers could do what had to be done.
“Only one choice,” he answered. “We start where we ended.”